Playpen

Welcome to the Playpen, our space for ferrety banter and whimsical snippets of things that aren't quite long enough for articles (although they might be) but that caught your eye anyway.

at 09:16 on 06-03-2012, Jamie Johnston
Oops, formatting fail, sorry. I guess I used p-tags rather than I-tags round that second pseudo-title. I plead 'small phone big thumbs'.
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at 09:14 on 06-03-2012, Jamie Johnston
Not sure where I lie in the Hemmens classification of Miéville-feels. I read Perdido Street Station and neither hated it nor found it greatly satisfying. I'd read something else by him if it came well recommended or if someone gave me a free copy.

I probably slightly preferred the world-building to the plot and characters, or at any rate I'd be more likely to read Some other people do stuff in that city than

The further adventures of those same characters in various different places

. But I'd be still more likely to read Another Miéville book with a new and equally / more interesting setting and also a plot and characters that are generally said to be rather good.

Regrettable he doesn't seem to have written books under any of those titles.
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at 07:32 on 06-03-2012, Arthur B
I think the difference there is that on the whole I think Lin Carter enjoys precisely the level of recognition and respect his writing deserves in the wider SF/F community, whereas Mieville is loudly celebrated to an extent his work doesn't really merit.
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at 01:58 on 06-03-2012, Michal
I came to Mieville with my expectations lowered by Ferretbrain and absolutely loved him.

I think this is the case with a good many of us; I like a few authors that have been utterly dumped on in Ferretbrain articles, while I have a sort of seething resentment towards Michael Moorcock, who is held in pretty high regard here (ditto Jack Vance and Fritz Leiber, unfortunately, and probably worst of all...Jeff Vandermeer).

However, as for Mieville, I've voiced my opinions often enough, I think. He's at once an interesting author and a highly irritating one. I actually got angry at The Scar because it felt like the book would just never end. And Perdido Street Station...was a 200-some page pulp novel that somehow mutated into the montrosity that it is. I also don't appreciate adjective-loading as a cheap way of being "arty", which early Mieville did. A lot.

Essentially, if I see a book of his at the library I read it, but I would never buy one. And even this isn't quite true, because I borrowed The City & the City and didn't get more than a few pages in.

HOWEVER, he is an author who causes strong reactions, which is far better than a mediocre author who only musters a "meh". I mean, the mere mention of his name seems to have set you all off. If I mentioned, say, Lin Carter, the only reaction would've been some pointing and laughing.
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at 00:15 on 06-03-2012, Robinson L
Mm, so do I; didn't take the TeXtFactors to tell me (though they certainly did their part). Maybe that means I should get around to actually reading Mieville one of these days. Hmm. Has he written any non-bricks? (I'm cool with Really Long Books - provided I can obtain them on audio from the library and have someone else doing the bulk of the work for me.)
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at 00:13 on 06-03-2012, James D
Well what the fuck does "the literature of ideas" mean anyway? A good character is an idea. A good plot is an idea too. There's a difference between a 'fluff' idea, a one-off detail that only serves to flesh the world out a bit (like flavor text on trading cards), and a major idea that is central to the story. I don't know if speculative fiction is 'the literature of ideas', but Mieville writes the literature of fluff ideas.
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at 22:44 on 05-03-2012, Axiomatic
Daniel, the TextFactors have established, to my satisfaction, that I have low tastes in literature.
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at 22:31 on 05-03-2012, Arthur B
Yeah, this is why I'm embarrassed by buying into the idea that speculative fiction is "the literature of ideas", and hence crappy plots and dull characters are OK. If ideas is all you've got you've got a pretty impoverished literature right there.
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at 22:22 on 05-03-2012, Dan H
I just can't hold "having more ideas than he has plot for" against a writer.


I can. Maybe I'm a horrible, soulless person, or perhaps I just hung out with the wrong kind of RPG nerd but I'm extraordinarily uninterested in ideas, because ideas are easy.

The thing about tiny dancing copper coin golems or people with armour made of scabs is that there is nothing else to add. Once you've written the five or six words it takes to convey the idea to a third party, you have nothing else to say.
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at 22:15 on 05-03-2012, Arthur B
Mieville, to me, is at his best when he's just throwing crazy-cool ideas at the page (People with armor made from scabs! The Malarial Queendom! Nomad bird people with libraries strapped to their backs! Rocks that evaporate and condense together randomly! A magic order that works by sacrificing your own memories to feel your spells! Tiny dancing copper coin golems!) and not really caring too much about the plot.

Proposal for the ideal China Mieville publication format: a box of index cards, each card containing Mieville's writeup of a single idea from whichever fictional universe, world, or London he is playing with right now. Story and worldbuilding are for the reader to infer as they shuffle the cards.
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at 22:09 on 05-03-2012, James D
Usually I wouldn't either, but in this case the ideas are so many and the plot is so weak that I just have to.
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at 22:08 on 05-03-2012, Axiomatic
I just can't hold "having more ideas than he has plot for" against a writer.
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at 22:01 on 05-03-2012, James D
Er, my post was directed at Dan's. Took too long to type it out and other people snuck in there!
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at 21:59 on 05-03-2012, Andy G
I came to Mieville with my expectations lowered by Ferretbrain and absolutely loved him. Perhaps because of the lowered expectations! I've only read The City and the City of his novels but I really like his political stuff, including that article which sparked this whole discussion!
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at 21:53 on 05-03-2012, James D
Well, put me in the first camp. I agree with your criticisms of the story for the most part, it seems like he set up a few major events (the big reveal about Yagharek at the end, Lin getting kidnapped) and then just wrote the book as a series of 'and then this happens, and then this happens, and then this happens'. No real flow or coherence to it, which made the 'big events' really lackluster when they happen because there was no appropriate build-up to them.

Like with Yagharek; within a few pages his victim just suddenly shows up out of nowhere, reveals to Isaac what happened, and then Isaac makes his decision after an incredibly short period of time after immediately believing her (I mean, dismissing a rape claim is a shitty thing to do, but can you honestly tell me the average person would unquestioningly believe the word of a total stranger that their friend has done something totally awful without even hearing what the friend has to say?). It turns what should've been an interesting moral question into something of a throwaway. I mean, what would you do if you found out one of your friends had once raped someone and been punished for it, assuming of course they felt genuine remorse and weren't about to go do it again? Can punishment and repentence ever truly absolve someone of that magnitude of guilt, or do all rapists deserve to be ostracized for the rest of their lives? Maybe they do, but it's a complex issue about the nature of crime and punishment that deserves real thought and could honestly have taken up the bulk of the book. But no, Isaac's just like 'later dude' and that's it.

I appreciate that Mieville can think up cool stuff, but it seems like he's just totally unable to leave any of it out. If he thought of something cool, he's damn well going to shoehorn it in there somehow. Like the scene where the mayor asks the demon for help, only for him to refuse; we didn't know about demons in Bas-Lag beforehand, and they're never mentioned again. It's utterly pointless, other than to be 'cool' (which it admittedly is) and to further imply that the Weaver is a really dangerous last resort. But they imply that anyway by being really scared of him and by trying other stuff first and then ACTUALLY SAYING he's a really dangerous last resort. OK, enough complaining about Mieville for now, I promise.
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at 21:52 on 05-03-2012, Axiomatic
Sure, but it's not the ONLY reason why I like him.

Mieville, to me, is at his best when he's just throwing crazy-cool ideas at the page (People with armor made from scabs! The Malarial Queendom! Nomad bird people with libraries strapped to their backs! Rocks that evaporate and condense together randomly! A magic order that works by sacrificing your own memories to feel your spells! Tiny dancing copper coin golems!) and not really caring too much about the plot.
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at 21:32 on 05-03-2012, Dan H

I was like, I didn't know you could DO that in fantasy! I didn't know it was even allowed!


I suspect that makes a lot of the difference. If you come to Mieville having encountered any even vaguely alternative fantasy settings then you just don't get your mind blown the way he clearly wants you to.
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at 21:27 on 05-03-2012, Ibmiller
Valse - I had much the same reaction to Kraken and Un Lun Dun as well :-) Though I actually finished Kraken, since I was using it for my "let's see if Mieville is worth reading without having arthropod squick all over the place." Un Lun Dun - Marxist (but the political message is confusing in the end) Narnia/Discworld. And not nearly as interesting or original as either of those.

Kraken, however, was much more interesting - but the ending was really ridiculous (and to me, rather insulting, though that's probably not a common reaction by most of his typical readers). I thought the worldbuilding had some good ideas, but was waaaaay too aware of how cool its ideas were - very self-satisfied. And rather slapdash - Star Trek magic alongside The City Horuspex (basically magic Batman) - and Squidianity. Just way too convinced that it was the best world ever. Made by 13-year-old dudes. Rather felt like subpar (as in less emotionally engaging but just as imaginative and lazy in follow-through) Gaiman.

And that one was supposed to be a more satisfying ending for Mieville. The reviews I've read (mostly Abigail Nussanbaum's) don't make me think that the tone of the worldbuilding or the quality of the story construction improve at all, really. While I love mysteries, The City and the City just seems to incredibly implausible and/or incredibly annoyingly symbolic for me to want to give it a try.

So, yes, I will jump on the "Mieville is not as good as he thinks he is" wagon. (Wait, am I a ferret or a lemming :-)
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at 21:26 on 05-03-2012, Axiomatic
I love Mieville's work unironically and once I manage to get my mitts on a copy of Embassytown, I will again be able to say I own everything he's done.

A lot about it has to do with reading fantasy that was basically either Tolkien or a reprocessed Tolkien imitation product, and then encountering Perdido Street Station in the library, and having my tiny teenage mind completely blown.

I was like, I didn't know you could DO that in fantasy! I didn't know it was even allowed!
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at 21:16 on 05-03-2012, Dan H
A bit late to the party here but yeah, I've always thought Mieville was overrated (I promise I thought that before it was cool). I've only read Perdido Street Station and I found it *monumentally* underwhelming.

I observe, interestingly, that there seem to be exactly four responses to Mieville (this is of course an oversimplification, but it makes things fit together neatly). Basically you either love the worldbuilding and hate the story, or love the story and hate the worldbuilding, or love both or hate both. I've often heard people complain that PSS has a wonderful imaginative setting hampered by a week story. I've rather more rarely heard people complain that PSS has a promising adventure plot hampered by too much self-serving world-wanking. And I've heard people praise both the setting and the plot for their depth and complexity, while I personally don't rate either.

I found the end of PSS pathetic in about six different ways. No, they can't leave hunting the slake moths to the proper authorities, because that would involve trusting The Man and it was The Man who got them into this in the first place (I appreciate that the guy's a Marxist, but I was fairly sure that Marx had very little to say on the subject of making a better monster-hunting squad). And they've got to sacrifice a homeless guy to the machine because that shows that they can make Hard Choices (because letting poor people die so you can play hero is totally the tough decision). And Lin gets brainwiped because that's what women are for, and Yagraek turns out to be a rapist because ZOMG you thought he was a good guy but he isn't!

The Yagraek-is-a-rapist twist particularly bugs me in retrospect because if you squint and close one eye, it could almost be making a point about Isaac's fundamental hypocrisy. He doesn't care what Yagraek did until it reminds him of something that happened to somebody he knows (and he ignores the victim's request to treat the crime in terms of theft of choice), and he makes no effort to reconcile his disgust at the practice of Remaking condemned criminals (which punishes crimes by mutilation and loss of freedom) with his belief that Yagraek deserved to have his wings cut off (which punished a crime by mutilation and the loss of freedom).

So yeah, generally didn't like it.

On a tangential note, I also understand that he's a twat IRL as well. I've got a friend who goes to a lot of cons, and apparently he's started off at least one meet-the-author session by saying "but I don't want to talk about my work, because that would be boring."
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at 20:30 on 05-03-2012, Arthur B
That's my reaction to it too. As far as an evocation of an interesting setting goes, it's pretty good, but again it really didn't need 800 pages to accomplish that, particularly since the setting, whilst aesthetically interesting, isn't nearly as bizarre as, say, Jeff Vandermeer's Ambergris.

There's enough material there for a really tightly plotted short story, or maybe a short novel, but fluffing it up to 800 pages is an enormous exercise in puff and prevarication.
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at 20:16 on 05-03-2012, James D
I don't know, I'd argue the plot actually is pretty bad. Not necessarily in another book, but in a long, ostensibly complex novel, it's way too simplistic to justify its 800-odd pages. I got so damn sick of hearing Mieville describe the stupid slake moths at length again and again. It sounds like he was trying to make them seem quasi-Lovecraftian, but he also manages to utterly miss the point of what makes Lovecraftian creatures horrifying. The slake moths may have otherworldly properties and may look really weird and scary, but they're just hungry animals trying to eat and survive and reproduce, not inscrutable beings of unfathomable motives.

And why does he build Lin into an interesting character, only to wisk her away and make everyone think she's dead, only to then bring her back right at the end, only to almost immediately have her turn into a helpless drooling idiot? And the resolution to the Yagharek thing was so lazy, too. It's just 'oh, he's a rapist? BYE! The End.'
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at 19:13 on 05-03-2012, Andrew Currall
I've only read Perdido Street Station and about a third of Un Lun Dun. I very much liked the former (yes, the plot is the weakest part of it, but it isn't in any way actually bad, and everything else is excellent), and thought the latter abysmal in every way (dull, poorly written, preachy, predictable). I don't think I've ever had two such different reactions to two books by the same author.
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at 18:32 on 05-03-2012, valse de la lune
I couldn't read Kraken and thought Un Lun Dun completely dull.
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